At World Heritage-listed island, Lord Howe, you really can get away from it all – even the phone.
Is that me squealing with excitement? A second squeal confirms it. Outside the plane window there’s a fairytale creation of jagged volcanic peaks encircled by robin egg blue water. The pilot does an extra doughnut in the sky just to show off the landscape before landing – there can’t be too many destinations that attract this treat by QantasLink.
I’m travelling alone on this short Lord Howe Island jaunt, but now that I’m here on this Tahiti-esque island I wish I’d brought my husband and daughter with me. At the airport terminal, which is nothing more than a shed with a computer, I’m met by manager Dani from Pinetrees, the oldest of the island’s resorts. On the short drive to the retreat, Dani points out along the way places with delightful names like Lovers Bay and Lagoon Beach.
The population of Lord Howe, she explains, is about 350 and visitor numbers are capped at 400. The speed limit is 25km/h, everyone rides bikes and there are honesty boxes everywhere – “at the boatshed just put the money in the tin and help yourself to a drink, at Neds Beach the masks, fins and snorkels are in the shed and at the nine-hole golf course help yourself to the equipment”. There is little to fear on the island, Dani continues, as there are hardly any spiders and no snakes. “And no crime,” she adds. “But we do have a policeman and he’s very strict on making people wear bike helmets.”
There are no keys, no TVs, no mobile phone coverage and internet access is slow, she warns as we pull into the driveway of Pinetrees. The accommodation is motel-style basic but it’s far from bland. It’s clean and comfortable and fresh frangipani flowers have been placed on the bed, kitchen table and bathroom sink. The only items that shatter the illusion that I’ve stepped into a time warp are the Nespresso coffee maker and iPod docking station. I crank up the coffee machine, put on some summer music and suddenly I’m in the perfect beach hideaway.
After unpacking, I jump on my bike – parked at my very own stand outside the front door – and cruise past a sign warning of wood hens on the road. Even the endemic wood hens are chilled-out on Lord Howe Island. These bantam-sized birds only break into a run when you’re about to ride into them, and they gave up flying years ago. If you lived in paradise with no predators and plenty of food would you bother with such unnecessary exertion? Homo sapiens, like the wildlife on this World Heritage-listed isle, have also adapted their behaviour to suit the unique environment.
They smile more, wave at strangers and converse excitedly as if intoxicated by the pure air, the unsullied landscape and the talcum-white sand. Zooming down the road I nearly expect to hear my grandma telling me to slow down and be sensible. “But I can’t slow down, grandma,” I want to yell, “I only have two days here”. On my to-do list: swim with turtles, climb Mt Gower, feed the fish at Neds Beach – a protected marine zone – and discover the world’s
most southerly coral reef.
At the beach there are a number of brightly-painted sheds with signs out the front advertising kayaks for hire and glass bottom boat tours. Relaxed Peter from Islander Cruises takes me out on a turtle-watching safari and we spot Sumo, a green turtle measuring 1.3 metres, and his friends Silky and Tripod (he lost a leg). We potter about under a polished blue sky, looking at butterfly fish, vibrant wrasse and lizard fish darting about in the aquarium-clear water.
Soon it’s time to ride back to Pinetrees, where I have a table booked for one. All meals are included in the Pinetrees rate – the chef’s menu is impressive and tonight there’s a choice of just-caught Lord Howe yellow fin tuna with crab, cucumber and horseradish salad or roast chicken breast with Taleggio polenta cake, spinach and oregano jus. The accommodation, like the island itself, is delightfully simple but the food could rival any five-star hotel.
Lord Howe Island is about 600km east of the mainland, less than a two-hour flight from Brisbane by QantasLink, the only airline to offer flights to the island. There are no high-rise developments and the 18 accommodation options are almost all owned by island families. Lord Howe’s climate is mild year-round with temperatures hovering around 25°C in summer.
Pinetrees is a resort with ensuite rooms and one, three and four bedroom. Arajilla is a luxury retreat with ensuite rooms and one and two bedroom suites. Capella Lodge is Lord Howe’s premium boutique accommodation with nine suites and a super premium Lidgbird Pavilion with a plunge pool. The lodge commands spectacular ocean and mountain views. Islander Cruises offers a range of tours. The glass bottom boat turtle tour is $55 for adults, $25 for children. Book at the boatshed.